The Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s American branch, was suspended on Thursday for three years for its willingness to consecrate same-sex marriages. But the punishment is not expected to dissuade Episcopalian leaders. As Jim Naughton, a communications consultant for the Episcopal Church said, “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back. We can’t repent what is not sin.”
But the denomination’s decision should not be interpreted as a theologically orthodox parent lovingly disciplining its rebellious child. Beneath the Anglican Communion’s actions against the Episcopal Church lies selective outrage, with the Episcopal Church being punished for its attempt to interpret doctrine, while unambiguous sins of other leaders have gone unaddressed.
The last time that famed ball dropped in Times Square, Americans seemed hooked on heaven. A glut of books purporting near-death experiences flooded the marketplace. “Heaven is For Real,” a film based on a massively popular book about a boy who claimed to have visited heaven, brought in nearly $100 at the box office. And a small faith-based film company invested an estimated $5 million to begin production on “90 Minutes in Heaven,” a movie based on another book about a near-death experience. Heaven was having its heyday.
After 2015 dawned, however, something shifted. Heaven books and near-death accounts came under greater scrutiny. Alex Malarky, author of popular “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” admitted that he made the story up and did not actually meet Jesus while in a coma and Lifeway Christian Stores announced they were pulling “heaven visitation” books from their shelves. “90 Minutes in Heaven” tanked at the box office in September.
What went wrong?
The religious historian George Marsden once quipped that in the 1950s and 1960s an evangelical Christian was “anyone who likes Billy Graham.” But when Billy Graham was asked to define the term in the late 1980s, he replied, “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody too.” As it turned out, even America’s most famous evangelical preacher couldn’t describe what the term meant.
Graham isn’t alone. While the word evangelical pops up in American media to describe everything from mega-churches to voting blocs, few people seem to know what an evangelical is exactly. Those who claim to know often disagree.
What is an evangelical, for the love of God, and why does it even matter? The answer requires an understanding of both the history and theology of the movement.
By now, everyone with an internet connection knows about the San Bernardino, California shooting that claimed the lives of at least 14 people. A tragedy like this, while deeply troubling, should not be surprising to those paying attention. As Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post reported in August, “we’re now averaging more than one mass shooting per day.” But the reaction on social media was less predictable.
From Senator Lindsey Graham to Governor George Pataki, Twitter and Facebook were peppered with comments from conservatives who promised their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims affected by the shooting. In response, many advocates of gun reform fired back with a round of “prayer shaming,” claiming that their sentiments were hollow because they were not backed up by tangible legislative proposals. The liberal watchdog website “Think Progress” even accused these well wishers of having been bought by the National Rifle Association.
Jesus of Nazareth is explicitly mentioned in fewer than half of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible, Tim Keller sees Jesus in all of them. “There are two ways to read the Bible,” the New York Times best-selling author and prominent pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian says. “The one way to read the Bible is that it’s basically about you. … Or you can read it as all about Jesus.” It’s somewhat unsurprising then, given Keller’s perspective, that he would see Jesus throughout the Psalms, an Old Testament book compiled centuries before Christ’s birth.
What is remarkable is how Keller sees Jesus showing up there and why. In “The Songs of Jesus,” Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy, offer a 365-day Jesus-centered devotional from the book of Psalms. Here we discuss what they believe we can learn about Jesus in this ancient book of poetry.
In Houston, Texas, a controversial “equal rights ordinance” failed last Tuesday. The legislation sought to ban discrimination based on more than a dozen classes of people, including gender identity and sexual orientation. It was dubbed the “bathroom bill” because critics said it would to offer any person access to a public bathroom whether intended for men or women. At issue, according to supporters was protection for a particular kind of citizen: transgender people.
Christians–particularly those of the more conservative variety–often oppose accommodations like this for transgender persons. But these believers are having a very important conversation in the wrong direction. When trying to understand transgender issues, Christians should start with the personal, not political. When Christians begin by committing to political goals rather than educating themselves on the complicated, sensitive nuances of this matter, they often come off looking privileged, mean, or just flat out clueless.
If you think God is dead, you’re still welcome at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Minister John Shuck’s approach to God resembles that of a low-budget frat party — Bring Your Own God.
“While the symbol ‘God’ is part of our cultural tradition, you can take it or leave it or redefine it to your liking,” Shuck wrote earlier this year. “God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force.”
But Shuck isn’t the only religious leader dispensing of the sacred descriptor.
In 2001, Alan Chambers was hired as the president of the world’s largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International. That same year, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report that stated, “there is no valid evidence showing that sexual orientation can be changed.”
Like most conservative Christian leaders at the time, Chambers considered the countercultural nature of his work a point of pride. During the latter part of the 20th century, Exodus and similar conservative groups promoted the idea that gay people could—and should try to—become straight. Ex-gay leaders traveled to churches and appeared on television news programs citing a litany of examples of happily married “former homosexuals” to demonstrate that sexual orientation is a choice and that change is possible.
But Chambers would undergo a radical change of heart. In 2013, he publicly apologized to the LGBT community for the “pain and hurt” Exodus had caused and announced that the ministry was permanently shutting down. Chambers’s decision effectively delivered the deathblow to the beleaguered ex-gay movement.
Galileo would be proud. Well, sort of.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Seminary, condemned “reparative therapy” that aims to make gay and lesbian people straight on Monday. But he added that homosexual orientation can change through divine intervention:
In the case of many people struggling with this particular sin [of homosexuality], we do not believe that some kind of superficial answer whereby they can turn a switch from being attracted to persons of the same sex to being attracted to persons of the opposite sex…By God’s grace, that might happen over time as a sign of God’s work within the life of that individual.
Other prominent conservative Christians have also changed their thinking on reparative therapy in recent years, including Alan Chambers, the erstwhile leader of America’s largest ex-gay ministry. These hopeful developments demonstrate that conservative Christians are not content to live in the dark ages on important matters such as sexuality, but they are also cautionary tales. Because these leaders once drew unequivocal lines in the sand about issues like reparative therapy and stamped them with a “thus saith the Lord.” Their current enlightment on these matters should warn Christians about sounding certain about matters about which Scripture is not clear and on which they are not experts.